Nunavut Impact Review Board rejects proposed Baffinland expansion | CBC News

The Nunavut Impact Review Board has recommended that Baffinland’s Phase 2 expansion not be allowed to continue.

In a letter to Dan Vandal, the Federal Minister of Northern Affairs, Nunavut Impact Review Board Chairman Kaviq Kaluraq said the mine has the potential for “significant adverse ecosystem effects” on marine mammals, fish, caribou and other wildlife, which in turn could harm Inuit culture, land use and food security.

Kaluraq’s letter also pointed to the potential for “transboundary effects on marine mammals and fish and the marine environment outside Nunavut’s habitat.”

Finally, she noted that these effects “can not be adequately prevented, mitigated or managed in an adaptive way”, even with the proposed revisions of the project certified that the board has already issued to Baffinland.

The long-awaited recommendation was released on Friday, after a four-year review process that set economic development against environmental protection and the sustainability of traditional hunting. The entire report is 441 pages long.

Baffinland, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Nunavut government all declined interviews until they can review the report.

In a press release, Baffinland’s CEO Brian Penney said the company was disappointed with the decision.

“Our Phase 2 proposal is based on years of in-depth study and detailed scientific analysis, and has significant local support based on years of consultation with Inuit and local communities,” Penney said.

“We will ask the federal government to consider all evidence and input and to approve the Phase 2 application on fair and reasonable terms.”

The decision ultimately rests with Vandal, who has previously said he will make a decision within 90 days of NIRB’s recommendation.

In 2016, when the same board recommended that a gold mine in the Nunavuts Kitikmeot region should not continue, then-Federal Minister Carolyn Bennett rejected that recommendation and asked NIRB to give the project a second chance.

That mine was approved the following year.

The Mary River mine has been in operation on northern Baffin Island since 2015 and is currently allowed to extract and transport up to six million tonnes of ore per year.

Baffinland had requested to double its shipment of iron ore from the port of Milne Inlet to 12 million tonnes per year and to build a 110-kilometer railway to the port.

SE | Inuit on Baffin Island may determine the fate of the iron ore mine far to the north:

Inuit on Baffin Island may determine the fate of the iron ore mine far to the north

The Canadian mining company Baffinland, which signed an agreement with the Inuit to extract iron ore as early as 2014, now wants to double its production and even build a railway over traditional hunting grounds. For many Inuit there, that idea puts jobs against environmental considerations.

Baffinland also made a myriad of promises to nearby communities in connection with the expansion, including jobs, money, environmental monitoring programs, boats, daycare centers, training centers and more.

The company also undertook to gradually increase shipping over four years from the approval of Phase 2, and to ban the use of heavy fuel oil seven years before it is to be banned in the Canadian Arctic.

Many of the commitments are linked to a $ 1 billion Inuit security agreement that Baffinland signed with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association 2020, depending on the expansion process.

Nevertheless, the QIA chose not to support the expansion, citing a lack of trust among communities and uncertainty as to whether new proposed mitigation measures would actually work with a larger mine operation.

Too many uncertainties remained

In a press release, NIRB further explained some of the considerations as to why it chose to reject the proposal, in its longest and most comprehensive review ever.

In particular, the board said that “despite the best efforts of all parties, the board was not sure that the proposed measures would limit or prevent these negative effects.”

In addition to financial commitments, Baffinland had promised many mitigating measures to address the concerns raised during the public hearings, the majority of which were environmental.

“The Board has concluded that the proposed assessment cannot be implemented in a way that will protect Nunavut’s ecosystem integrity and that will protect and promote the existing and future well – being of Nunavut’s residents and communities, and Canada more generally,” it said. in NIRB’s press release.

The board also listed six areas of uncertainty that had been raised during the public hearings, including whether Baffinland correctly conveyed the effects of the current operation versus what communities were actually experiencing.

NIRB quoted testimonies from Inuit and community-based organizations as saying that Baffinland and regulators “had not meaningfully considered and applied Inuit knowledge and experience to address this uncertainty.”

The board also heard how there were gaps between what the Inuit experienced in terms of the effects of the mine, and how Baffinland responded to these fears, if at all.

The board pointed in particular to the issue of dust spreading around the mine and Milne Inlet harbor, and the changes in narwhal and seal populations along the shipping lanes since the mine opened.

“Inuit knowledge shared with the board from knowledge holders in Pond Inlet, indicated that these effects alter their ability / willingness to camp, fish, hunt and pick berries in areas affected by red dust and also change the time, place and levels of effort required. to harvest narwhals and seals “, it was stated in the press release.

“Communities indicated that such changes threaten food security and create cultural losses for which communities cannot be compensated. Referring to communities’ concerns about these potential negative effects, Inuit organizations and the majority of community-based interventions did not support the proposal.”

The issue of the levels of iron dust around Baffinland and Milne Inlet harbor has been a recurring concern raised by the Inuit. During a trip that CBC News took to Milne Inlet in February 2021, the dust was so widespread that it formed red icicles at the foot of the snowmobiles. Baffinland has tried to curb the dust content in the port and has promised further dust reduction measures within the Inuit’s security agreement. (Nick Murray / CBC News)

Economic effects

In its press release, the board also acknowledged the loss of financial benefits Phase 2 would have promised, including $ 2.4 billion in royalties, as well as the potential for the future of the mine to be in jeopardy without the expansion.

“Many residents of the affected communities also expressed the view that the potential positive socio-economic benefits of the proposal focus on economic benefits, while the negative socio-economic effects focus on effects on land use, harvesting, culture and food security that cannot be offset by money,” NIRB said.

“Due to several factors, including education, training, labor market and demographics, some of which are beyond the control of the advocate, there is still uncertainty as to whether the full range of proposed benefits can be delivered, and questions remain about the scope of Inuit contracts and Inuit employment. can be delivered by phase 2. “

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